In many ways, Lou Jing is a typical young Shanghainese woman. Pretty and confident, she speaks Mandarin heavily accented with the lilting tones of the Shanghai dialect and browses the malls of this huge city for the latest fashions.
But there is one thing that distinguishes this 20-year-old from her peers, something that has made her the unwitting focus of an intense public debate about what exactly it means to be Chinese: the color of her skin. Born to a Chinese mother and an African-American father whom she has never met, the theater student rocketed into the public consciousness last month when she took part in an American Idol-esque TV show, "Go! Oriental Angel." (See pictures of modern Shanghai.)
The marketing gurus for the series could hardly have dreamed of a better promotional gimmick when they started to investigate the backgrounds of the dozens of pop star wannabes to root out the competitors' mushy stories of triumph over adversity that are a well-worn staple of the genre. Here was a tale guaranteed to attract eyeballs - a girl of mixed race brought up by a single Chinese mother struggling to gain acceptance in a deeply conservative, some would say rascist, society.